Because I Can See Needing a Knife: Review

Because I Can See Needing A Knife
by Noah Stetzer
Red Bird Chapbooks

Reviewed by Joy Gaines-Friedler

needingIn Judaism the number 18 holds a special significance, for the eighteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Chai, translates literally to the word “life.” It is no surprise, or perhaps a wonderful surprise, that there are eighteen poems in this stunning work by Noah Stetzer: Because I Can See Needing A Knife.

To live with AIDS is to live in an alternative universe of numbers, and time. Stetzer shows us how a diagnosis of AIDS is literally a new relationship with life, and how for those whose “Numbers crowd this room” who find themselves suddenly known by what science and technology can tell us about T cells and viral load, where “A barcoded wrist / band spills out my story with laser beams” (from “Measure of a Man”), this New Normal, as it’s been called, is a life that has been taken over by numbers and realigned with a focus now on fate and lack of control. “Manageable is the last thing you would / call this” Stetzer corrects us in his poem “Signals.”

These stunningly crafted poems illuminate the murmured dreams and gut-wrenching fear of living with AIDS. In the poem “Intruder,” Stetzer shows us how survival requires a system that cannot break down. For missing one pill is like being alone in the house, one’s guard down, maybe even paranoid, unable to find the “big knife” missing since after dinner. In whose hand might this knife be?

These poems crash through the wall of indifference; the wall of unknowing. They hurl us through space where there are comets and planets pulling us away from this living world, where an infection in the lungs is like “burnt stars and twisted moon rock,” yet it is the people in this poet’s life that bring him back, where “small listening gets louder.” Like dawn in “Asleep,” Stetzer’s poetry “crashes and bursts through the early sky.” We’re offered the chance to know the sufferings and longings one living with AIDS might endure. And, like the physical beauty of this book itself we’re offered the chance to know that it is love: family, partner, dogs, friends, that becomes the poet’s “driver” here in these eighteen life-affirming poems.

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Joy Gaines-Friedler teaches Advanced Poetry and Creative Writing for non-profits in the Detroit area, including the Prison Creative Arts Project. Her many poetry awards include the Litchfield Review Poetry Series Award for a series of poems based on the journal of her best friend Jim, who died from AIDS in 1990. A Pushcart nominee, Joy is the author of three full-length poetry collections.